Do You Have Too Many Chickens?
Nothing puts a damper on keeping chickens like a high feed bill, too many aggressive roosters, and a flock of unproductive hens. Yet many chicken enthusiasts find themselves faced with just this situation. Some of them will find new homes for their old and unwanted chickens, others have resorted to dropping them off on a country road, and still, others will do what our ancestors did and turn those extra chickens into a nice pot of soup.
I realize that the last option will not go over well with people who have named their hens Penelope or Brunhilda. However, it is a much better fate than dropping your pet chickens off and leaving them to their own devices. Most of those ill-fated birds will meet up with wandering dogs, foxes, or coyotes…and that will not be a pleasant end.
Autumn is Near
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere as I do, and especially if you live up north a bit, you’ll find that the hens are slowing down in their egg production. I’ve shared some ideas for increasing their production. But, inevitably, with ‘old’ age those hens will slow down to the point where it is no longer economical to keep feeding them for the 1 or 2 eggs they give at their leisure.
I have found that fall is a good time to cull the extra hens from my flock so that I’m not feeding them through the winter when they’re unable to forage for their own grub outdoors. In the ways of our farming forebears, I opt for processing and eating these old hens. Some will make a nice fall soup, others will go in the freezer or I will pressure can the meat for winter.
A New Home for Henrietta?
If you can’t bring yourself to end the life of your beloved hens, but you don’t want to feed them anymore, you can advertise them on Craigslist or another site. Just keep in mind that you have no idea what fate they will meet once they leave your homestead. It might be kinder to keep fewer chickens and butcher the extras each fall to keep your home economics in good stead.
DIY Chicken Processing
If you have decided that the proper thing to do is slaughter these old hens and extra roosters to provide food for your table, you can read my detailed post How to Butcher a Chicken and I will walk you through the steps. If you have questions about killing, dressing, or cooking these birds, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me. I’m always happy to help answer your questions!
Basic Chicken Soup from Scratch
Here are the basic instructions for making your own chicken soup, from scratch.
- dressed chicken
- vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery
- salt, pepper, seasonings
- stock pot
Wash chicken, place in a large stock pot and cover with water. I also put the freshly scrubbed feet into the pot for extra gelatin. Add a pinch or so of salt, if desired. Bring water to a boil and turn it down to a simmer until the meat is falling off the bones.
Use a large spoon and fork to remove the carcass from the pot to a large pan or platter to cool. Pour broth through a sieve to remove any bones. When the carcass is cooled, pick the meat off the bones and return the meat and broth to the stock pot.
Chop carrots, potatoes, onions, celery, or any other vegetables that you like into the pot. You may also use rice and frozen vegetables, such as peas and corn, or mixed vegetables. Turn the heat up to medium-high until the broth begins to boil, then turn it down to simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add seasonings to taste. I like poultry seasoning, black pepper, salt, and sage…but use whatever your family prefers.
Note: Your own homemade chicken soup will taste much better than anything from a store-bought can. You will have control over the ingredients and your chickens will provide one more meal on your homestead.
I also feed the bones back to my flock…they pick the bones clean in no time at all! The bones will eventually decompose and add nutrients back to the soil, but you can collect them and grind them for bonemeal or toss them in the garbage.
Do you process your extra roosters and old laying hens? Do you thin the flock in the fall, to cut down on the winter feed bill?
How old of a chicken can still be considered a roaster/broiler – and when do they become stock pot material? Is there an age cut off? We have only been at this for 10 months and have some chickens of unknown age.
When you see a roaster or broiler at the grocery store, it was a Cornish Cross broiler that was raised to around 6 to 8 weeks of age before processing. Anything else would be a stewing hen. It isn’t all that often that you see stewing hens in the store, because most people don’t want to make their own soup.
Having said that, I think for our purposes any young chicken that has not reached sexual maturity would be a broiler, but would be very skinny compared to what you would buy. This will happen anywhere between about 3+ months for cockerels and 5+ months for a pullet. Once a cockerl starts to crow and fight with the other cokerels, it’s time to butcher them…unless you want to keep a rooster.
If you have had chickens of unknown age for 10 months, treat them all as stewing chickens and make soup, or pressure can the meat to make them tender and tasty.
I hope this helps!
I couldn’t put any of my girls to the fryer yet, but it is a much better fate then dropping them off! The soup does look delicious.
It sure isn’t easy to do, Heidi!
We have had to do this a few times on our flock and those old hens make great stock but they also do great for canned chicken. After they have been pressure cooked the meat is just as tender as young chickens.
So true! Thanks for sharing, Tracy!
Great site – I’m so glad I found it! I do become attached to my chickens, but have realized that the time eventually comes for them to be in the “soup group”. Mean roosters and extra cockerels are easier than my favorite hens….but so it goes. 😉
Glad to have you here, Stacie! It’s harder for me to butcher the hens too. You get to know them better so they seem like old friends 😉
Timely post, we are butchering today. 🙂
Lol! Good for you, Becca!
I study my flock for weeks before I decide which ones are going in the freezer (destined for the stock pot) and which ones live through the winter for the next year. Unfortunately I’ve accumulated quite a collection of kid-named chooks, which have a lifetime immunity against soup. Steve Brody is one. And then there’s Little Red. Also Babes. And of course Hoppy. So many more. *sigh*
I try to spend more time in the coop and pasture watching them too, before I make my final ‘list’…or I shut the ones who seem less productive into a side room to see if they are still laying.
I guess I’m fortunate that my son doesn’t think of the chickens and pets…if anyone gets a name, it’s my own doing. I force myself to butcher them anyway. But I understand the situation! Best wishes with your fall culling 🙂